Little Needs and Deeper Needs

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Dear Still Water Friends,

A month ago, I heard someone quote D.H. Lawrence about “little needs and deeper needs.” Although I caught only part of the excerpt, I was intrigued by Lawrence’s appraisal of Western culture: that we are cut off from our sources of nourishment and renewal. With the help of the internet, I found the quote in an essay Lawrence wrote in 1930 about his intention in writing Lady Chatterley’s Lover, published two years earlier:

Man has little needs and deeper needs. We’ve fallen into the mistake of living from our little needs til we have lost our deeper needs in a sort of madness. Let us prepare now for the death of our little life and reemergence in a bigger life in touch with the moving cosmos. We must get back into relation through daily ritual. We must practice again the daily ritual of dawn and noon and sunset, of kindling fire and pouring water, for the truth is, we are perishing for lack of fulfillment of our greater needs. We are cut off from the great sources of our inward nourishment and renewal. Sources that flow eternally in the universe. Vitally the human race is dying. It is like a great uprooted tree with its roots in the air. We must plant ourselves again in the universe. (from "A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.”)

The quote led me to reread Lady Chatterley’s Lover. On the surface it is a story of sensual awakening. But the awakening occurs in a society — England of the 1920s — in which, in Lawrence’s mind, almost everyone had deadened themselves with materialism and inauthenticity, “little needs” rather than “deeper needs.” At the end of the novel, Lawrence’s character writes in a letter:

Anyhow, nobody knows what should be done in spite of all the talk, the young ones get mad because they’ve no money to spend. Their whole life depends on spending money, and now they’ve got none to spend. That’s our civilization and our education: bring up the masses to depend entirely on spending money, and then the money gives out. The pits are working two days, two and a half days a week, and there’s no sign of betterment even for the winter. It means a man bringing up a family on twenty-five and thirty shillings. The women are the maddest of all. But then they’re the maddest for spending, nowadays.

If you could only tell them that living and spending isn’t the same thing! But it’s no good. If only they were educated to live instead of earn and spend, they could manage very happily on twenty-five shillings. If the men wore scarlet trousers as I said, they wouldn’t think so much of money: if they could dance and hop and skip, and sing and swagger and be handsome, they could do with very little cash.

Although D.H. Lawrence and Thich Nhat Hanh led very different lives, both remind us that “living and spending isn’t the same thing!” Thich Nhat Hanh writes in his commentary on the Fifth Mindfulness Training:

We consume because we want to be happy. But consumption is not true happiness. People consume in order to cover up their suffering. Many people pour themselves a glass of alcohol or open the refrigerator to take something to eat or drink in order to help them forget their suffering, their difficulties, their loneliness, or their weariness with life. This is something peculiar to our modem society.

Happiness is not something that we have to look for and find somewhere else. Returning to the present moment, we are in touch with the wonders of life inside and around us. With the help of our mindful breathing and mindful steps, we can produce happiness straightaway. When we have mindfulness, concentration, and insight we become very rich people who are able to produce much happiness for ourselves and others; we don’t need to run after anything anymore. (From The Mindfulness Survival Kit).

This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we will recite together the Five Mindfulness Trainings and focus on the Fifth Training on Mindful Consumption. Our Dharma sharing will begin by exploring the training in terms of our predisposition to put our “little needs” ahead of our “deeper needs.”

You are invited to join us.

I’ve included below the text of the Fifth Mindfulness Trainings and a kindred poem by D.H. Lawrence.

Also, Three Special Still Water events will occur in the next 30 days:

In gratitude,

Mitchell Ratner

The Fifth Mindfulness Training: Nourishment and Healing

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming.

I will practice looking deeply into how I take in edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to use alcohol, drugs, gambling, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will make every effort to consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and our Earth.


D. H. Lawrence

All that matters is to be at one with the living God

to be a creature in the house of the God of Life.

Like a cat asleep on a chair

at peace, in peace

and at one with the master of the house, with the mistress,

at home, at home in the house of the living,

sleeping on the hearth, and yawning before the fire.

Sleeping on the hearth of the living world

yawning at home before the fire of life

feeling the presence of the living God

like a great reassurance

a deep calm in the heart

a presence

as of the master sitting at the board

in his own and greater being,

in the house of life.